When they first start working out, a lot of people gravitate toward familiar, single-joint dumbbell exercises like biceps curls. There’s nothing wrong with these exercises, but they’re not as effective as compound exercises, which use multiple muscle groups.
If you’re not sure which compound dumbbell exercises you should be doing, keep reading. Below are 10 of the best ones to help you build muscle, burn calories, and see great results.
- 1. Dumbbell Bench Press
- 2. Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift
- 3. Dumbbell Shoulder Press
- 4. Dumbbell Farmer Carries
- 5. Weighted Walking Lunges
- 6. Dumbbell Goblet Squats
- 7. Dumbbell Thrusters
- 8. Renegade Rows
- 9. Dumbbell Lateral Lunges
- 10. Weighted Bulgarian Split Squats
- Add These Compound Dumbbell Exercises to Your Workouts Today
1. Dumbbell Bench Press
You don’t have to have access to a barbell to make bench pressing a part of your routine. The dumbbell bench press is an effective alternative chest exercise that targets the pectoral muscles, as well as the upper back, arms, shoulders, and even the legs.
To do a dumbbell bench press properly, remember these tips:
- Holding a dumbbell in each hand, lie flat on a bench and position the weights so they’re directly above your chest (palms should be facing forward)
- Place the feet flat on the floor on either side of the bench
- Engage your core and allow your lower back to arch a bit to help protect your shoulders
- Inhale and lower the weights to either side of the chest (the elbows should be at 45-degree angles)
- Exhale and push the weights straight up toward the ceiling (the arms should be perpendicular to the floor at the top of the exercise)
- While you’re pressing the dumbbells, push into the floor with your feet and use your legs to help you get the weights up
- Inhale and lower the weight back to the starting position
2. Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift
For your lower body, the Romanian deadlift is one of the best compound exercises with dumbbells. Romanian deadlifts target your hamstrings and glutes, as well as your lower back and core muscles.
Here are some cues that can help you perform Romanian deadlifts correctly:
- Stand up straight with your feet hip-width apart and a dumbbell held in each hand
- Inhale, then exhale and slowly hinge at the hips, sending them back behind you as you lower the dumbbells down toward the floor
- Make sure the core is engaged, and the back stays flat as you lower the weight
- Keep the weights close to your body and stop when the dumbbells reach your mid shin
- Inhale, press into the floor with your feet, and rise back up to the starting position
3. Dumbbell Shoulder Press
Dumbbell shoulder presses strengthen your shoulders, of course, but they’re also good for the upper back and core. Follow these cues when doing dumbbell shoulder presses to maximize your results:
- Stand up straight with your feet hip-distance apart
- Hold a dumbbell in each hand and curl them up, so they’re sitting in front of your shoulders with your palms facing out in front of you
- Inhale and brace your core, then exhale and press the dumbbells straight up over your head
- Keep pressing until your arms are straight and in line with your ears
- Inhale and lower the dumbbells back down to the starting position
4. Dumbbell Farmer Carries
Most people perform farmer carries with kettlebells. You can see similar results from doing them with dumbbells, though.
Farmer carries are an often-underrated core exercise. They also help you improve your forearm and grip strength, which can translate to better deadlifts, pull-ups, and other pulling exercises.
Learn more: The Top 9 Benefits of Farmer’s Walk Exercise
Keep these cues in mind when doing dumbbell farmer carries:
- Stand up straight and hold a dumbbell in each hand
- Make sure your palms are facing in
- Inhale and brace your core while pressing your shoulder blades down and back
- Slowly walk forward, controlling your steps and moving with purpose
You can also do suitcase walks to better target your obliques. For this variation, hold a dumbbell in one hand and aim to balance the weight and avoid tipping as you walk.
5. Weighted Walking Lunges
While you’ve got a pair of dumbbells in your hands, why not do some weighted walking lunges, too? Like many lower body dumbbell compound exercises, these are great for the legs and glutes, but they also target the core and upper body.
Set up for weighted walking lunges the same way you would for dumbbell farmer carries — standing up straight with a dumbbell in each hand. From here, follow these steps:
- Inhale and brace your core
- Take a big step forward with your right foot, then lower into a lunge (bend both knees so they form approximately 90-degree angles)
- Exhale and press into your front foot to stand up out of the lunge
- Inhale as you take another step forward with the opposite foot
- Remember to keep your back straight and core engaged as you lunge (avoid letting your chest collapse forward)
6. Dumbbell Goblet Squats
Squats are already an effective compound exercise. They strengthen your quads, hamstrings, calves, glutes, and back. To up the ante, though, go ahead and add a dumbbell.
To perform a dumbbell goblet squat correctly, remember these tips:
- Hold a dumbbell in front of your chest between your hands
- Stand so your feet are hip-distance or slightly wider with the toes pointing forward or angled out to the side
- Inhale and brace your core
- Slowly lower down into a squat while keeping your chest lifted and core engaged
- Exhale as you press into the floor and rise back up to a standing position
7. Dumbbell Thrusters
Thrusters are an incredible full-body exercise. From the legs and glutes to the back and shoulders, they target almost every major muscle in the body. All you need to do them is a pair of dumbbells (you can also use kettlebells, a resistance band, or a barbell, but we’ll just focus on dumbbells for now).
Keep these cues in mind when doing dumbbell thrusters:
- Begin standing up straight with the feet hip-distance or slightly wider
- Hold a dumbbell in each hand just in front of your shoulders (similar to the way you’d hold them for a dumbbell shoulder press)
- Inhale and lower into a squat, keeping the chest lifted and core engaged
- Exhale and press into the floor to rise out of the squat
- At the same time, press the dumbbells up overhead, so you end at the top of a standing dumbbell shoulder press
- Inhale and lower the dumbbells back to their starting position while lowering into a squat once more
8. Renegade Rows
Renegade rows are another good exercise for strengthening the core, arms, and upper back. Set up for this exercise by setting a pair of dumbbells on the floor about shoulder-distance from each other. From here, follow these steps:
- Get in a plank position with a dumbbell in each hand
- Separate the feet a bit wider than hip-distance so you can stay balanced
- Inhale, engage your core, and squeeze your glutes to help stabilize your torso
- Exhale and perform a row, pulling one dumbbell up off the floor and bringing it back toward your hip
- Inhale and return the dumbbell to the floor, then exhale and repeat on the other side
- To make this exercise harder, perform a push-up in between each row
9. Dumbbell Lateral Lunges
Lateral lunges are both a compound dumbbell exercise and a frontal plane exercise.
Most exercises that we include in our workouts on a regular basis take place in the sagittal plane, an imaginary line that divides the body in half lengthwise into right and left sides. The frontal plane, on the other hand, is an imaginary line that divides the body in half into a front and back side.
Here are some cues that can help you perform dumbbell lateral lunges properly and improve your front plane training:
- Stand up straight with a dumbbell in each hand
- Inhale and take a big step out to the side as you bend the knee and lower into a lunge position
- Continue to bend the knee to bring the dumbbell down toward the ankle while keeping the chest lifted
- Press into the foot and exhale as you rise back up to the starting position
- Repeat on the opposite side
10. Weighted Bulgarian Split Squats
Bulgarian split squats are already one of the best and most intense compound dumbbell exercises you can do. They help to combat muscle imbalances and challenge your core strength and stability. You can make them more difficult, though, by holding a dumbbell in each hand.
Follow these instructions to get the most out of your weighted Bulgarian split squats:
- Hold a dumbbell in each hand while setting up in a staggered stance with one propped up behind you on a box or bench
- Stand up straight and make sure the toes of your front foot are pointing forward
- Inhale and brace your core
- Lower your body until your front thigh is at least parallel to the floor
- Keep your back straight while lowering
- Exhale and press into the floor with your front foot to rise up to the starting position
Add These Compound Dumbbell Exercises to Your Workouts Today
Compound dumbbell exercises allow you to maximize your muscle gain and see results from your workouts faster. They help you get more bang for your buck and make your workouts more efficient as well.
What are you waiting for? Grab a pair of dumbbells and give one (or more) of these exercises a try today!